Someone who’s a little too curmudgeonly

rogersgeorge on September 1st, 2012

Someone recently sent me a link to a grammar site. Here’s the link:

The writer (I confess I have looked at only this page in the website) waxes vitriolic against the tendency of people to use adjectives and other parts of speech as verbs, in this case the adjective leverage. He (I think it’s a he) insists that you should use the verb lever instead.

English is a language that uses word order as a strong indicator of what part of speech you are using, and it has long used nouns and other parts of speech as verbs. We could use inflections, but those have fallen somewhat into disuse over the centuries. Back in the days of classical Greek, you could put the words in pretty much whatever order you wanted, and your reader could sort out the meaning of the sentence by looking at the word endings. But I digress. Remind me to tell you about chiasmus sometime.

So yes, the purists have a right to point out that we have a perfectly good verb in the word lever (which, ahem, also happens to be a noun) and hence using leverage as a verb shouldn’t be necessary.

Linguistics has a principle that every language is sufficient. That is, in every language you can say anything you need to say. A bushman language might not have any words for subatomic particles, but they don’t need to talk about subatomic particles. If their situation changed, the speakers of that language would figure out a way to say what they need regarding this new topic. The language would grow, and the language would remain complete. The French Academy hates this, by the way.

Back to leveraging. We English speakers needed a way to be more metaphorical about using a lever. To lever something as insubstantial as, say, a business environment, was too literal to feel right, so we stepped back a bit from the verb, and made the adjective into a verb. Viola! English grows a little, and remains sufficient.

On a slightly different topic, recently I ran into this use of a proper name as a verb. I get the meaning, and I don’t think we have a normal verb that contains the implications so succinctly set forth here:

You guys are going to Darwin yourselves out of the breeding pool soon enough, without my contribution, so enjoy your indignation while you’re still ambulatory and breathing.

So do you have a favorite neologism that you love to hate?

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